As U.S. election nears, Israelis catch election fever
TEL AVIV — Just beyond the beer taps at a Tel Aviv bar with an American flag hanging out front, a makeshift polling station draws dozens of Americans in Israel casting their vote for the U.S. election, 6,000 miles away.
“This is more fun than voting in the Bronx,” said one voter, sealing his ballot in an envelope Sunday night at the Dancing Camel, the Tel Aviv bar where the Vote From Israel organization set up its absentee voting operation in the city.
Israelis — including the American citizens among them, as many as half of whom hail from swing states — have been closely following the election campaign across the ocean.
Hourly radio news bulletins routinely report the latest U.S. polls, Israeli media have dispatched reporters to cover the campaign trail and have been rebroadcasting Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonations on “Saturday Night Live.” Some Israelis have even gotten involved on the grassroots level. One group produced a YouTube video called Israelis for Obama that has been seen some by some 400,000 viewers.
All the while, Israelis have been following the disproportionate mention of their small country in the campaign with a mix of amusement and validation (in the vice presidential debate alone, Israel got 17 references).
The visits to Israel this summer by both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain lent further credence to the Israeli joke that Israel is America’s 51st state. During their visits, both candidates made the perfunctory pledges of support for Israel. The gestures may have been meant for Jewish voters back home, but they also put at ease Israelis not too familiar with either candidate.
Israelis “feel very much involved in this election and have deep opinions about it,” said Abraham Diskin, a Hebrew University political scientist.
The author of a new book on the history of the U.S. presidency titled “The Presidents,” Diskin said he was surprised by the high level of demand in Israel for his new book, which includes chapters on Obama and McCain and features the two on its cover.
With the U.S. election just days away, poll results released this week by the Rabin Center for Israel Studies found that 46.4 percent of Israelis would vote for McCain and 34 percent for Obama, with 18.6 undecided. Nearly half of the 500 Israelis surveyed, or 48.6 percent, said McCain would be better for Israel; 31.5 percent said Obama would be better.
The results are very different from U.S. polls showing Obama in the lead, including among American Jews. They reflect the wariness some Israelis, including Americans living here, have about Obama’s untested relationship with Israel.